Learning is the Key to Success at Lucknam Park
The hospitality industry is known for its high staff turnover. But Lucknam Park in Wiltshire is trying to buck the trend by putting an emphasis on developing young people in the kitchens.
Under the guidance of Executive Chef Hywel Jones (right) young chefs are given opportunities to work in the country house hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant The Park, brasserie and the cookery school.
One of the most recent success stories is Ben Taylor (left), who is following in the footsteps of his predecessor Hrishikesh Desai (whose first job at Lucknam Park was in The Park restaurant before going on to head up the brasserie kitchen and then in the cookery school when it launched two years ago) left to take over at The Gilpin in the Lake District after winning the job on BBC 2’s Chefs on Trial.
Ben began his Lucknam career almost five years ago, as sous chef in The Park.
“I spent nearly two years as sous, then moved to the Brasserie to take the head chef role there then this opportunity at the cookery school arose,” he said.
And it was Hywel who really encouraged Ben to make the move.
“By chance, Ben had already approached me about getting some teaching qualifications,” said Hywel. “So when Kesh left I put two and two together and suggested that he should take over.”
Hywel is a member of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and works closely with the organisation, taking on a new apprentice every year.
“It’s a three year apprenticeship,” he explained. “And then they are encouraged to stay on afterwards. It means that we have three apprentices working with us at any one time.”
“The youngest apprentice we’ve had was 17 I think, although most are 18 or 19. But taking them at that age you have to be a bit of a parent to them as well,” said Hywel.
“I remember having butterflies in my stomach when I went into my first kitchen, but as you get older it’s easy to forget that that’s what these kids are going through too.
“When I’m taking on an apprentice I always ask to meet the parents first, and that’s as much for the parents’ benefit too.
“I know that when my children leave home I will be bricking it and you have to remember that these kids are all someone’s son or daughter.
“Parents will know if their child isn’t happy but all they have to do is pick up a phone and talk to me. I think it’s a more honest way to run things.
“I have an ongoing dialogue with the parents. If something isn’t right sometimes I will go to them and ask them to have a chat with their kid, but I’ll also email or text to let them know if their kid has done particularly well. As a parent I know I’m chuffed to bits when my kids do anything well.”
This caring attitude might not live up to the stereotypical, shouting head chef, but the result is that the Lucknam Park kitchens have a higher than usual staff retention rate.
“You have to look after your staff,” said Hywel. “If you can retain staff for two or three years then you are doing well but we have some people who have been here five years.
“It’s important to create a happy environment where people can learn and develop.
“When I was starting out I worked in kitchens where I was almost too scared to speak and that’s not how I want these kitchens to be.”
The Brasserie Brigade is run by Dan Hutchinson (3rd from right). Dan has been at Lucknam Park for almost 3 years and during this time he has worked through the ranks and became Brasserie Head Chef in May 2015 following Ben Taylor’s move to the Cookery School.
In the last 4 months 4 new Commis Chefs have joined the team, 2 of them arrived after completing 2 year college programmes in Bath and Exeter.
Learning and development is an important part of working at Lucknam Park and not only are there opportunities for promotion within the organisation, but Hywel also encourages promising young chefs to enter national competitions.
“Being in the countryside we are never going to be able to offer the same salaries as in London, and that’s where the development comes in,” explains Hywel. “I will always encourage people to take part in competitions. The moment you take someone out of their comfort zone they are learning and that’s important.
“Competitions are a big investment for us – if someone is taking part then you have to give them extra time off, not just for the competition itself, but also to practice. And there’s the cost of all the ingredients as well. But it’s worth it because it buys you some loyalty, and it’s very positive for the rest of the brigade when they see people around them succeeding.”
Jade and Richard won a scholarship and have been at Lucknam Park since 2012, currently working at Demi CDP level in the Park after progressing in the Brasserie.
Ross started as an Apprentice on the Specialised Chef programme and has remained at Lucknam Park following completion of the programme.
Hywel met Tom when he assisted at a Charity dinner in Cardiff. He joined the Brasserie kitchen in November 2013 and is now working as a Demi CDP in the Park.
There’s no doubt that being part of the Lucknam brigade offers a wealth of opportunities, but to become part of the team you have to be more than a talented chef.
“I always say that you could employ 10 of the best chefs in the world, but you wouldn’t necessarily have the best brigade,” says Hywel.
“If you don’t have the right personalities then it just won’t work.
“When I’m looking for staff I look for a pleasant character that will blend in and work well in the team.
“We might have two kitchens at Lucknam Park, but we are one team, and that’s important.”
Rob Potter (right) worked as a Junior Sous in the Brasserie and Park restaurant, he then left for a period of time and returned as Head Chef in March 2013 when Richard Edwards moved on to take the Head Chef role at Lords of the Manor.
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